This column was published in the News Journal (1/24/15):
As a political theorist, writer-activist, [past] party chair and former candidate, I have been thinking a lot about what needs to happen to get our country back on the right track. Here are seven things progressives should remember as we move forward.
1. Congress does not represent the people.
Believe it or not, a progressive majority exists in the United States, despite what party operatives and the corporate-owned media want us to believe.
According to recent Pew polls, 60 percent of the public believes the U.S. economy unfairly advantages the wealthy; 82 percent think government should do a lot or some to reduce poverty; 69 percent think it should do a lot or some to reduce the gap between rich and poor; 73 percent favor raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, and 54 percent favor taxing the wealthy and corporations to expand aid to the poor.
On foreign policy, 62 percent favor good diplomacy over military strength as the best way to ensure peace; 57 percent think too much force creates hatred and more terrorism; 74 percent do not think we should have to give up privacy for safety; and 54 percent disapprove of the government’s collection of phone and Internet data.
Even on social issues, 54 percent believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 54 percent favor same-sex marriage.
2. Political parties are not like ball teams.
Some Democrats have a ball team mentality. They believe the most important thing is to elect Democrats, defined as people who have a D by their names, as if that is an end in itself. It is not.
The point of electing Democrats, in my view, is so they can fight for working and middle-class people (the 99 percent) and move us toward a more caring society, in which everyone has access to adequate food, housing, medical care, and a reliable safety net, as well as a high-quality education, a good job and a secure retirement. We must act to protect humans, animals and the environment from greedy predators who will do anything to make a profit, work to end the “New Jim Crow,” and make sure our government serves the common good and is accountable to the people – among other things.
Democrats who support the Keystone Pipeline, oppose the regulation of Wall Street, want to reduce the availability of health care or gut Social Security, are politically worthless. We need to primary bad incumbents, not support them.
3. “Republican Light” is not the answer.
Voters with progressive values do not want Democrats who are Republican Light. If that is the only option, they will choose not to vote – which is their right – as evidenced by the 2014 debacle. The Democratic Party needs to reconnect with a progressive agenda and nominate Elizabeth Warren for President in 2016. She is the emerging leader of the progressive Left in this country, and she has broad appeal. We cannot wait.
4. Activism is a good thing.
Some people think activism is a dirty word, like it somehow delegitimizes a person’s perspective, when in fact activists are simply active citizens who care deeply about the issues. Shouldn’t we all be activists?
Social movements play an important role in politics, often pushing issues or perspectives that are being ignored by political elites. Many party types criticize social movements for being too radical, not having an electoral strategy or being divisive. Certainly, they can be inconvenient. However, as illustrated by the movie “Selma,” they can have a huge impact on politics and society.
Take the Occupy movement, for example. Despite its lack of a simple agenda, it successfully changed the discourse in this country, giving us the terms “1 percent and 99 percent” and pushing economic inequality to the political forefront.
The current national movement against police authoritarianism has already introduced “the New Jim Crow” into our political discourse and highlighted the need for systemic changes, including an end to “stop and frisk” and “broken windows” policies, an end to the militarization of police departments, an end to the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, and an end to problematic approaches to training, among other things.
5. “Us vs. Them” thinking is counterproductive.
By focusing on systemic problems, rather than demonizing the police (most of whom are trying to do a good job) or searching for “bad apples” (as if they are the only problem), it is my hope that we can move away from an “us vs. them” framing. Polarization undermines the possibility of democratic society.
In addition, because police departments are one of the few remaining sources of good blue-collar jobs, and the Left stands for working people, as well as for racial equality and social justice, we should not paint police officers as the enemy. Of course, we must stand opposed to racism, arbitrary power and authoritarianism, but don’t most officers oppose those things as well?
6. “Common ground” does not mean “meeting in the middle.”
If the Left is ever to rebuild political support for a progressive agenda, we need to persuade more folks to support us, not alienate people. However, it’s important to note that finding common ground does not mean moving to the center or splitting the difference (e.g., “Let’s surge and then withdraw! Let’s offer a stimulus and then cut the budget!”). To the contrary, we need to find progressive issues that have broad appeal. For example, progressives should be able to find common ground with people who really should not, on the basis of economic self-interest, be voting for the party of corporate oligarchy.
7. We need to organize on issues, not parties.
In addition to economic populism, a number of other issues could also bring Left and Right together. For example, right-libertarian Rand Paul has been outspoken against the militarization of police and the War on Drugs: “You want your police to be aggressive,” he said. “But if someone’s got some pot, you want to break down the door at 2 in the morning with masks and gas and concussion grenades?” Who in their right mind would favor that approach?
Common ground might also emerge against the surveillance state, war in the Middle East and high-stakes testing in our public schools – issues on which neither party currently has it right.